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Sitcoms convinced me I’d be attending a lot more of these three types of events.
Growing up in front of a TV, sitcoms formed a lot of what I thought life would be like as an adult. Now that I’ve been an adult for quite a while, I can tell you that life bears little to no resemblance to my favorite TV shows for many reasons. One example is the fact that sitcom characters always seemed to be attending events that I’ve never been to or even heard of occurring in real life. These events may indeed exist in some part of the real world with which I’m not familiar, but I’m still surprised I haven’t had to attend them as much as sitcom characters did.
There are many events that fit the bill: fancy galas, costume parties, telethons, award shows, and fashion shows, to name a few, but the following three events are the ones that occur most often in the sitcom world.
Throughout the 80s, 90s, and even the 2000s, bachelor auctions were featured heavily in sitcoms. They’re supposedly events where single men are “auctioned” off for a date with the highest bidder as a way to raise money for charity. They’re always attended by dozens of wealthy women (usually elderly), all clamoring for the most eligible bachelor. I personally have never attended nor even heard of a bachelor auction taking place in real life, but as a youngster, my favorite shows convinced me I would have to attend at least one.
Spin City — The Nutty Deputy Mayor
After inadvertently fat-shaming the “League of Large New Yorkers,” Mike (Michael J. Fox) agrees to wear a fat suit for a day to get an idea of what life is like for fat people. The day just happens to coincide with the big bachelor auction, and Mike has been bragging to the whole office that he’ll procure the most primo price with his prowess.
When Mike asks Stuart (Alan Ruck) to help him out of the fat suit, Stuart convinces him to stay in the suit longer to truly experience what it’s like to be fat. This leads to an awkward scene where Mike struts down the catwalk in the fat suit to stunned silence, then lectures the crowd about judging him by his weight.
Meanwhile, the newly-divorced Mayor Winston (Barry Bostwick) has eyes for a beautiful reporter who plans to attend the auction. When she doesn’t bid on the mayor, he pretends she did, and ends up paying a hefty sum himself. The episode ends with the reporter marveling at how much the mayor spent just for one date with her, and the mayor expressing his relief, saying, “Good. I was afraid it would make you feel like a prostitute.”
NewsRadio — Look Who’s Talking
Mr. James (Stephen Root) wants to fetch a favorable fee at a bachelor auction, so he enlists Beth (Vicki Lewis) to pose as a duchess and bid on him. Joe (Joe Rogan) coaches her in speaking and acting like a rich socialite, and accompanies her to the auction as her “bachelor friend” (much to his chagrin).
When Beth becomes smitten with a limo driver and runs off with him just before Mr. James takes the stage, Joe is forced to step in and awkwardly bid on him instead, explaining that he’s the “bachelor friend” of the “Duchess of North Chesterborough.” The crowd responds with knowing “ahhs,” ostensibly assuming Joe is gay, prompting Joe to angrily shout, “It’s not like that!”
Seinfeld — The Barber
Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is hosting a charity bachelor auction, and she asks Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) to put himself on the auction block, but Jerry’s hair has recently grown shaggy, so Elaine tells him to get a haircut first. Jerry is reluctant to get a haircut because he’s unhappy with his longtime barber, Enzo (Antony Ponzini). Kramer (Michael Richards) convinces Jerry to go to the barbershop on Enzo’s day off and get a haircut from Enzo’s nephew, Gino (David Ciminello). To Jerry’s surprise, Enzo comes into the shop on his day off and insists on cutting Jerry’s hair, giving him a dreadful new look.
Embarrassed by his contemptable coif, Jerry refuses to participate in the bachelor auction and suggests Kramer go in his stead. This leads to a hilarious scene where Elaine struggles to come up with positive things to say about Kramer while he struts oddly around the stage, ultimately falling off the edge.
Murder Mystery Parties/Weekends
I always thought it would be fun to attend a murder mystery party, but sadly, I was never asked, nor have I ever heard about one being held in real life. Yet sitcoms have been using murder mystery parties and weekends as settings for comedic antics for decades.
Just Shoot Me — Hostess to Murder
Probably my favorite example is the Just Shoot Me episode where Maya (Laura San Giacomo) hosts a murder mystery party. The gang from the office are reluctant to attend, but eventually they all decide to go when their other plans fall through. This leads to so many funny gags that it’s hard to decide where to begin.
Jack (George Segal) and Elliot (Enrico Colantoni) argue about who gets to play the “safari hunter,” and end up arriving dressed in the same costume. Nina (Wendie Malick) shows up with Derek (Hamilton von Watts), a slow-witted model whom Maya used to date, and insists on dramatically apologizing for her betrayal, even though Maya doesn’t care. Fred Willard plays the host of the party, who’s only doing the gig for money while he struggles to become a serious actor. He spends the party hovering by the phone, hoping his agent will call and tell him he got a better part.
The episode interestingly mixes in the trope of a character feeling guilty after justifiably yelling at a cantankerous elderly person, who subsequently drops dead. Maya’s grumpy neighbor, Professor Gladstone (Philip Bruns), keeps banging on the door and yelling at her to keep the noise down (even though they’re not making any noise). Maya gets fed up and yells at him, and he drops dead of a heart attack.
Of course, the party guests think it’s all part of the game and continue to read their cards each time the bell rings despite Maya’s insistence that the professor is really dead. When a real detective shows up and arrests the host, thinking his prop gun is real, the guests applaud. Maya tries once again to explain that the show is over and everything that’s happening is real. Then the bell rings and Derek reads his next card, shouting, “She’s gone mad with syphilis!”
Third Rock from the Sun — Dial M for Dick
Putting the undercover aliens from Third Rock from the Sun in any situation leads to side-splitting antics, so it’s no surprise that hilarity ensued when they attended a murder mystery weekend hosted by Billy Connolly. Dick (John Lithgow) decides to attend the event with Mary (Jane Curtain), and of course he brings his family/crew along. When Mary comes down with food poisoning, she takes to her bed for the weekend, and the gang are left on their own.
Without Mary to explain what’s going on, the aliens assume everything is real, including the murder, and they can’t understand why everyone at the party is acting so nonchalant about it. They secretly plot to solve the crime and take down the perpetrator, ultimately calling in Officer Don (Wayne Knight), who arrives with a full SWAT team, only to discover that the crime was staged.
The Golden Girls — The Case of the Libertine Belle
When Blanche (Rue McClanahan) brings the gang along on a murder mystery weekend, Dorothy (Bea Arthur) expertly solves two fake murders right off the bat. Later, Blanche becomes the prime suspect in another murder when a man is found dead in her bed. Of course, the ladies panic, thinking Blanche will be tried for a heinous crime she didn’t commit.
Eventually, Dorothy solves the case once more and exonerates Blanche, but the ending takes a strange turn when they discover that the third murder was also fake and they were all unwitting participants in the show. The fake victim thanks Blanche and laughs it off as if it’s no big deal, but it seems cruel to make a person think she’s being accused of murder when the so-called victim isn’t really dead. Apparently this was all so Blanche could get a job from the guy she was accused of murdering. It doesn’t seem worth it to me.
I feel like some married couple somewhere must have renewed their vows at some point in real life, but I’ve never been invited to a vow renewal ceremony, nor have I ever heard about anyone having one outside of a sitcom. TV weddings have always been ratings gold, so I think a vow renewal is a way for writers to shoehorn in a wedding without anyone actually getting married. (Another way they do this is with the trope where a character decides to enter into a loveless sham of a marriage then changes their mind.)
Newhart — I Do, Okay
Joanna (Mary Frann) wants to do something special for her and Dick’s anniversary, so she decides she wants to renew their vows. Like a lot of vow-renewing characters, she feels that their original wedding was insufficient (apparently they joined some kind of mass wedding with a few other couples), so she wants to do it up right this time. She invites the whole town to the inn and gets gussied up in a typical 80s poofy wedding dress, but right before the ceremony, Dick (Bob Newhart) puts his foot in his mouth (as usual) and upsets her by referring to the ceremony as “this stupid thing.”
Joanna locks herself in a closet while the guests wait and Dick tries to convince her to come out. Eventually, she changes her mind and comes out to walk down the aisle a second time. Dick reads some touching vows he wrote for their original wedding but never used, which are comically 1960s themed, and they make up.
Too Close for Comfort — Do You Take This Woman Again?
Muriel (Nancy Dussault) wants to have a vow renewal ceremony for her and Henry’s anniversary because, like Joanna from Newhart, she feels her original wedding was insufficient (they eloped). She decides to have a cozy little ceremony with a few friends and family members.
Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and Sara (Lydia Cornell) volunteer to plan the ceremony as their anniversary gift to their parents, and of course, they enlist Monroe (Jim J. Bullock) to help because “He has the calculator.” Not surprisingly, the trio’s planning gets out of control, and what was supposed to be a small ceremony with only 14–15 people in their apartment becomes a massive gala in a hotel banquet room with a guest list of over 65 and a budget in the thousands.
This leads to a big argument between the bride- and groom-to-be-again, which ends with Henry (Ted Knight) making a heartfelt apology through the door to Muriel’s darkroom, only to discover he was talking to Monroe. Fortunately, Muriel heard the whole thing, and they make up and decide to elope once again.
Alf — Gimme That Old Time Religion
As part of Alf’s Melmackian religion, he must become a minister by the time he turns 233. In order to fulfill the requirements of his God, “Barry,” he must perform a religious ceremony. Coincidentally, at the same time, Willie (Max Wright) is trying to think of a good anniversary gift for Kate (Anne Schedeen), so Alf (Paul Fusco) suggests they renew their vows with him officiating the ceremony.
Since Alf is involved, the Tanner family has to be careful to hide the celebration from their neighbors, the Ochmoneks. Of course, the suspicious Mrs. Ochmonek (Liz Sheridan) shows up in the middle of the ceremony, and Willie and Kate have to explain why they’re dressed in wedding garb and their house is full of flowers. Willie provides the ludicrous explanation that Brian’s turtle died, and Kate’s wedding dress was his favorite. Brian (Benji Gregory) exclaims, “Oh no, Gabby!” Lynn (Andrea Elson) covertly reminds him that he doesn’t have a turtle, and Brian responds, “Then who’s Gabby?”
They finally get rid of Mrs. Ochmonek, Willie and Kate read their custom-written vows over romantic music, and Alf concludes the ceremony with a touching yet predictably snarky monologue.